Best of 2020

Christmas has been a bit different for many people this year, even before the late changes to tiers and coronavirus restrictions.

Certainly the first one partially spent dressed in a sloth onesie for starters (and it was really warm) while there are even decorations up in my flat – the two things may be linked.

And this is the first for many years spent in this country – discounting those in Africa and South America – when have not been working right up to Christmas Eve and heading back into the office within a day or two.

What that means is there has been time to draw breath over the holiday period, to look ahead and back over a difficult year – and time to write the traditional Travel Marmot post on the year’s best music.

The first of two traditional posts – the second, state of the nation article may even be posted on (or near) New Year’s Day – that time has allowed it to take on a different look with top 30 lists of albums and, for the first time, tracks.

They have changed considerably, the relistening which has soundtracked the last few weeks in the home office bumping a few albums up the list and seeing several more tumble.

That reshuffling is likely to continue, particularly in the lower reaches, as albums fail to last the course of time or others receive more attention.

There is one big change this year – boys with guitars which dominated the last couple of years being replaced by a fair few female singer-songwriters at the upper end – although many familiar faces remain.

So here they are, the albums and tracks which soundtracked a year of working from home, an issue which definitely helped shape the upper reaches of these lists.

Albums of the Year

1 Phoebe Bridgers – Punisher

“Some serious songwriting chops are enough to leave you wanting more… one to watch”

That was what this list said of Phoebe Bridgers when her debut album Stranger In The Alps was Discovery of the Year in 2017 and she has featured highly every year since – there was even the Phoebe Bridgers Album of the Year category last year.

Those serious songwriting chops reached new levels with Punisher, a pretty clear winner of this list.

Despite being completed before the onset of the pandemic, it has a sense of claustrophobia and bleakness which fits the feelings of the last nine months without losing a sense of insight, warmth and even humour which ensures a listen remains an uplifting, fulfilling experience.

There are plenty of layers here which are still being unwrapped after multiple listens and different versions floating around – almost inevitable given her prolific nature – as best witnessed by the tracks on the Copycat Killer EP and slower versions of Kyoto, the upbeat single which she was convinced to speed up to prevent the album being too similarly paced.

One to watch, to listen to repeatedly and to savour.

2 Waxahatchee – Saint Cloud

If Punisher has been holding on to top spot from release, Saint Cloud spent much of the year further down this chart before repeated revisiting has seen it rise and rise.

Katie Crutchfield’s previous solo work has always registered as worth a listen without making a huge impact.

But with her fifth album and her first since giving up drinking, she moves away from the indie toward Americana and really finds her voice.

Would work as the perfect soundtrack to an American road trip through wide open spaces, which just bumps that a further few places up the travel wishlist.

3 Drive-By Truckers – The Unravelling/The New OK

If there have been positives of the last four years under Trump’s Presidency, it has been the transformation of Drive-By Truckers from American band to American necessity, their anger and frustration at what was happening to their country spelled out in classic songwriting.

American Band was the Travel Marmot album of the year in 2016 and they returned this year with another delight – they just did it across two records at either end of the year which, combined, earn them another high placing.

Not everything works – Babies In Cages is just too obvious, lacking the depth of their best efforts – but when they get it right (Thoughts and Prayers, The New OK) it becomes clear why they have emerged as one of the most important American groups around.

Possibly bumped up a few places by The Unravelling being listened to (repeatedly) for the first time during 24 hours in a hammock crossing the Amazon.

4 Grandaddy – The Sophtware Slump… on a wooden piano

It is not new – a 20-year-old album played on what seems to be an even older piano – but my blog, my rules and this new version of a true classic is the perfect reissue we never knew we needed.

On the back of one of the best Twitter listening parties hosted by The Charlatans’ Tim Burgess (surprise candidate for musical hero of the year), it spelled out what a great album it is.

And it is amazing just how well these songs have held up to both time and the stripped-back versions here – epic opener He’s Simple, He’s Dumb, He’s The Pilot is perhaps the one which works the least well.

Lovely stuff.

5 Fontaines DC – A Hero’s Death

Last year’s album of the year winners did not rest on their laurels, returning with the follow-up mid-pandemic.

For a while, A Hero’s Death was heading to the slightly disappointing pile but prolonged exposure revealed a step forward which was not only worth repeated listenings but also laying the foundations for a longer future beyond being the current darlings of guitar music.

These songs maybe lacked the initial clout of Dogrel, but more reflected the impact the success had on the band – songs which moved on relentlessly without ever taking the next step you expected (and which maybe would have come on their debut) and it is that sense of anticipation which adds life and promise. For now and the future.

It stands alone but also as a sideways, possibly slightly backwards step, to clear a path for what comes next.

6 Taylor Swift – folklore

The undoubted surprise entry in the upper reaches of this list and it is there for a simple reason – it is really, really good.

Dubbed her indie album, it undoubtedly benefits from its collaborations with The National’s Aaron Dessner, Jack Antonoff and Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon, but this is Swift’s work, her songs supplying a pop edge to her co-creators’ backgrounds.

Any unwarranted doubts about her songwriting ability are dispelled by penning exile, the great Bon Iver song we have been waiting for over the last few years.

It is maybe three of four songs too long and the insistence on everything being lower case is frustrating (or is that just me?) but it stands up to repeated listening. Trust me.

7 Soccer Mommy – color theory

More lower case and another female singer-songwriter in the upper reaches, Sophie Allison’s second album takes a significant step forward from the promise of her debut.

The first new album which was played repeatedly on my return from travelling, soundtracking several long walks as lockdown took over our lives and somehow seemed to make total sense.

There’s a long, detailed explanation of the album being based in sections on colour but really, just listen to it and enjoy.

8 Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit – Reunions

If the upper reaches of this countdown belongs to female singer-songwriters, there remains a place for Jason Isbell.

Reunions leans like its predecessor The Nashville Sound slightly towards Radio 2 territory and polished mainstream more than the great double whammy of Southeastern and Something More Than Free which chronicled his new-found sobriety and move from a rock and roll lifestyle to domestic contentment.

But Isbell remains as good a songwriter as there is around and Reunions is never less than sharply observed and richly created.

9 Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever – Sideways to New Italy

My move from jingly jangly indie to Americana is reflected in this list, but there remains a place for shimmering guitars.

The Australian band jointly topped this list two years ago (with IDLES) and their sophomore effort takes a step forward from Hope Downs without lessening the number of interwined guitar lines, harmonies and damn good songs.

The sound of the summer we never really enjoyed.

10 IDLES – Ultra Mono

One of the most anticipated albums of the year and, to be honest, among the most underwhelming.

If IDLES can ever underwhelm.

There is enough in Ultra Mono to deserve this high placing – it has bounced around the fringes of the top 10 when putting the list together – but it is in danger of becoming too draining an experience for repeated listening.

When it hits its target (see below), it is as good as anything they have done, but relies too heavily on going for huge knockout blows when the odd body punch would get the message across just as well over the length of an album.

You do not need to shout to make yourself heard all the time.

11 Sufjan Stevens – The Ascension
12 Porridge Radio – Every Bad
13 Working Men’s Club – Working Men’s Club
14 Bill Callahan – Gold Record
15 Margo Price – That’s How Rumors Get Started
16 Laura Marling – Song For Our Daughter
17 This Is The Kit – Off Off On
18 Bob Mould – Blue Hearts
19 Matt Berninger – Serpentine Prison
20 Disq – Collector
21 Fiona Apple – Fetch The Bolt Cutters
22 Stephen Malkmus – Traditional Techniques 
23 The Orielles – Disco Volador 
24 Taylor Swift – evermore
25 Bright Eyes – Down In The Weeds, Where The World Once Was
26 Sports Team – Deep Down Happy
27 Boston Manor – GLUE
28 Dream Wife – So When You Gonna…
29 Fleet Foxes – Shore
30 The Flaming Lips – America Head

Bubbling Under (or in need of more exploration)
…And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead – X: The Godless Void and Other Stories
beabadoobee – Fake It Flowers
The Big Moon – Walking Like We Do
Gorillaz – Song Machine, Season One: Strange Times
Jordana – Classical Notions of Happiness
Becca Mancari – The Greatest Part
Sufjan Stevens & Lowell Brams – Aporia 
US Girls – Heavy Light

Tracks of the Year

Have stuck to albums on these annual lists before with maybe a passing mention of what was the track of the year, but if we can’t do these things differently this year, when can we?

1 IDLES – Grounds

“Do you hear that thunder?”

In a year when there has been plenty to get angry about, these lists are perhaps surprisingly lacking in fury, Bob Mould turns up the anger with Drive-By Truckers and Sufjan Stevens voicing frustrations in different ways.

IDLES had no hesitation in expressing their anger and on Grounds they packaged indignation as we entered lockdown and somehow foresaw some of the wider issues which would fill the following months.

And by slightly dialling down the scale of the backing – if not the intensity – they turned up the impact.

“Not a single thing has ever been mended, By you standing there and saying you’re offended”

2 Phoebe Bridgers – Kyoto
3 Drive-By Truckers – Thoughts and Prayers
4 Taylor Swift (feat Bon Iver) – exile
5 Phoebe Bridgers – ICU

6 Sufjan Stevens – America
7 Fontaines DC – A Hero’s Death
8 Phoebe Bridgers – I Know The End
9 Taylor Swift – the last great american dynasty
10 Waxahatchee – Lilacs

11 Porridge Radio – Sweet
12 Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever – Cars In Space
13 Phoebe Bridgers – Halloween
14 Soccer Mommy – circle the drain
15 This Is The Kit – This Is What You Did

16 Bob Mould – American Crisis
17 Phoebe Bridgers – Chinese Satellite
18 Taylor Swift – betty
19 Waxahatchee – Fire
20 Drive-By Truckers – 21st Century USA

21 Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever – Falling Thunder
22 Phoebe Bridgers – Garden Song
23 Soccer Mommy – bloodstream
24 Waxahatchee – The Eye
25 IDLES – Model Village
26 Sufjan Stevens – Video Game
27 Jason Isbell – Only Children
28 Waxahatchee – Can’t Do Much
29 Waxahatchee – Hell 
30 Fontaines DC – Televised Mind

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Ferris Wheel to Find Me, Ruben Olivares

Everyone claims that the times are a changing as theirs pass them by
And everyones’s right
Filthy and Fried – Drive-By Truckers

IT has been a bit nostalgic wandering through the latest batch of tracks on the A-Z trawl through my i Pod.

Wish that nostalgia had been for something historically or at least culturally significant, like the hip-hop wars which raged throughout the 1980s (at least they did if you spent the decade washing the ink off your fingers from reading the NME).

The warring factions in the weekly music paper’s office drew battle lines between their traditional white  boys with guitars and the upstarts from the streets of some American conurbation with their new-fangled rapping et al.

No, can’t spend too much time reminiscing about all of that as was far too ensconced in my indie guitar ghetto to consider listening to any of that stuff. Was definitely on the jingly jangly guitar side of the argument.

It took a while for the message to get through and make it in to the collection. Public Enemy popped up twice in this section. Although pretty sure Fight The Power was not written to soundtrack a walk to Sainsbury’s.

Some hip-hop did get through back then, mainly because it had some guitars in it (and it didn’t hurt they were going on about porn, parties and parental disapproval of haircuts).

But Fight For Your Right by The Beastie Boys mainly brings back memories of it being on the video jukebox while we were playing pool in the pub at lunchtimes when we should really have been in school, helped by knowing how to get at the button to keep playing for free.

Gilbert

Nope, the main memory from those teenage years of the 1980s was a green, rubber alien puppet with a penchant for slightly subversive comments in celebrity interviews and snot dribbling from his nose (once, infamously, in to a pop star of the day’s cleavage).

Actually had to check with Wikipedia and friends of a similar vintage that it was not a product of too many drinks during those pool session and, no, it was not my imagination.

Gilbert the Alien did exist and is fondly remembered by all those who have any recollection of him.

Gilbert first appeared on our screens on a Saturday morning TV show (Get Fresh, Wikipedia reliably informs me – bar Gilbert, have no other memory of it other than it was co-presented by perma-irritant Gaz Top).

At an age when Saturday mornings were first bearing the effects of the night before, the irreverent green thing on our screens was just what sixth formers lapped up amid the rest of the customary primetime fare for children.

Voiced with pretty much free rein by comedian Phil Cornwell, we didn’t always understand what he was going on about (particularly in the background like when he, allegedly, asked the drummer from Aswad to skin up) but he became must-see TV .

And then he was given his own series.

Gilbert’s Fridge had no right to be on children’s TV (there was, evidently, a later, adult version which nobody seems to remember) and lasted just one series, but we lapped it.

If we’d had water coolers in our school, we’d have gathered around it to discuss the previous evening’s programme.

If featured special guests (for some reason, Gilbert became Kim Wilde’s agent and worked in a typing pool with Wendy James from Transvision Vamp – another reason for teenage boys to watch) and regular sections such as the black and white World War II PoW camp series How Far To Hitchin? and Sunny Jolly Hols.

It is this bit – in which Gilbert heads off to Benidorm on his holidays with Get Fresh co-presenter Charlotte Hindle and a suitcase full of dead fish, who spent the entire time in the bath – which came rushing back as it used Fiesta by The Pogues as its theme tune.

Joyous music for joyous memories.

There has been more nostalgia in the last couple of weeks with a trip to London to meet up with a couple of old friends. Two people from different chunks of my life with little, maybe nothing, in common bar spending many years living in the capital. And knowing me.

Right up until they met in a Walthamstow pub and discovered one of them had spent the week working on an upgrade for the computer system at the company where the other worked (or something  like that, went straight over my head).

Mind you, he knows a few things about techie stuff – he was the man who set up this site on the back of a late-night conversation and it all sits on his work server.

Back when we were at school, however, he was not known for his musical taste. Yes we shared a penchant for Billy Bragg – who we once ambushed round the back of some benefit gig on Hackney Town Hall steps and made another of his regular appearances on the latest section from Kevin Morby to Mark Kozelek with The Few – but he needed some music therapy. Paul Young anyone?

So when he moved to London and got married (providing my first shot at a best man’s speech, totally improvised), the cost of me popping up to stay on a regular basis was a C90 compilation each trip designed to entertain and educate.

What became known as The Bollocks Tapes (the first  one, ever so wittily, was title Never Mind The Sex Pistol’s, Here’s Rob’s Bollocks…) built in to a catalogue of early-90s indie, although visiting too regularly meant they became filled with less than glorious album tracks.

And stirring somewhere in the house were some musical genes.

His eldest son played bass in indie wannabes Let’s Wrestle – still going, although with a new man in the rhythm section – and his youngest is the guitarist/singer/songwriter of the rapidly-emerging Girl Ray.

They are getting a fair amount of deserved attention, regular airplay on 6Music and have released a video which features my mate’s ex-wife. Which was a slightly odd watch.

We’ll get to both Let’s Wrestle and, hopefully, a lot more Girl Ray as the A-Z heads on, but there was more nostalgia from the latest batch – Fields of Athenry by The Dropkick Murphys who have the ability to remind me of any number of Irish, American, even African moments, and Final Day by Young Marble Giants.

Fighting In A Sack by The Shins bridges a fair few years and serves as reminder that their new album sits newly installed on the iPod and in need of a listen.

And, almost, right up to date there’s  Fill In The Blank by Car Seat Headrest (one of the discoveries this whole project was designed to find) and the wonderful Filthy And Fried by The Drive-By Truckers (‘Feeling lucky that 27’s the hardest thing she’ll have to survive’), my most recent obsession – particularly after an awesome two-hour set in Bristol.

And with that we’ll say adios until we see Almeria once again.

 

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The Enemy to Everybody Knows

THE last entry’s diversion from the direct A-Z route through my iPod, travel and the standard ramblings of this blog into politics and the point of protests elicited a range of responses.

It was largely positive and addressed some of the key points raised from the opening weeks of President Trump’s stay in the White House (and wherever he has popped off for a long weekend playing golf) .

So let’s address those key issues one by one.

  • The Queen Is Dead is the best Smiths album. This one has been argued at length over  more than a few pints and, whatever the merits of their eponymous debut album – its most common competitor – as a complete work from start the finish (the mark of a truly great album), The Queen Is Dead cannot be beaten.

Hatful of Hollow does have its supporters (including one very welcome regular reader who stated its case again) and it is a selection of excellent songs.

But that’s what it is rather than a coherent body of work or a studio album meant to be treated as such.

Let’s not get started on The Bends v OK Computer.

  • President Trump’s dismissal of somebody who dared to disagree with him over his travel ban as a ‘so-called judge’ brought to mind a certain type of person equally as keen on sharing their opinion while trying to silence any contrary ones – the local newspaper letter writer.

Nowhere else do you see the phrase so-called used quite so often – so-called councillors (regardless of any election result), so-called expert (well, yes… that’s probably why they were quoted, it’s a way of avoiding fake news), so-called doctor (yep, seriously had that one a lot) and so-called journalist, especially in the midst of complaints about something not included due to legal reasons (what with all that so-called legal training people don’t seem to accept journalists go through to distinguish them from the keen amateur).

My favourite of all the letters placed on pages (or consigned to the trash) over the years was the one which escalated through a list of so-calleds until it hit pay dirt by describing someone as a so-called person…

Fake news indeed

  • This blog will not fall into the same lack of respect with somebody’s title, it is not Trump it is President Trump. Fascist, loofa-faced, shitgibbon yes (to quote Pennsylvania State Senator Daylin Leach), but always President. President Fascist, loofa-faced, shitgibbon.

He did, after all, win an election. Which brings us to…

  • The response which has become common place to anyone expressing a contrary opinion to the one which won any vote since last July – you lost, get over it.

Since the Brexit referendum (and if we are going to have another referendum, can it be to vote against the word Brexit?), it has become the standard response to anyone less than pleased by the outcome and unwilling to just shrug their shoulders and disappear.

To which the standard answer is no.

Elections, referendums, any vote are a snapshot in time. Yes one side usually wins on that day and we should work to smooth over any differences and work together to make that electoral decision work.

But it does not mean voicing opposition is ruled out by the result – UK elections come with the bonus of appointing an official opposition (of varying degrees of usefulness). One of the great things about living in a democratic nation and lands of the free is that it is positively encouraged, as opposed to stamped on in so many places.

A fan of President Trump

Refer you back to the last post and how voicing a contrary view is stamped upon in so many parts of the world (as witnessed by those looking over their shoulders and talking in hushed tones while sharing details of everyday life in Zimbabwe) while standing up and making your voice heard has proved far more effective a weapon of lasting change than violence over much of the last century.

And just because we don’t like the result does not mean we are necessarily trying to overturn it – yes, you won, most of us accept that, but who says we can’t have a say on what happens next? Especially when nobody can agree what winning actually means.

  • One final question which came from the last post: Will I be visiting America while President Trumpgibbon is in office?

The answer was swift and simple – yes. Why not? Especially now Sweden seems to be off the travel list.

Having given it more thought, however, it is not quite that simple and why it was asked makes sense.

But whatever the thought processes and reasons for not going under President Trump, they are outweighed by a couple of simple facts – it is, despite so much of what we are seeing on the news (fake or otherwise), a wonderful country crammed full of friendly, welcoming people.

It has lured me back time and again over the last decade or so on a series of holidays and journeys that have taken in 39 states (some more comprehensively than others) and there is so much unseen in the quest to complete the set – more on that to come in the next few weeks.

There are two weeks booked off work this summer and the long-awaited planning for my next trip is starting to look Stateside – where and how depends on what remains in the bank account when the final damage of my run-in with the taxman (thankfully, given this morning’s final form filling, almost over) is assessed.

Fenway Park, Boston

New ground into some of those 11 remaining states? Revisit some of the places which deserve more time? Or let the Red Sox schedule decide (basically, back to New York or Boston)? Possibly, given the early flight prices, a combination of a couple of those.

Whatever the choice, there’s no intention of boycotting President Trump’s USA. That’s if they let me in.

And if you need any greater argument of why it is a country worth visiting, just try some of the music from that part of the world which punctuated the last section of the A-Z on my iPod from Roy Harper to Ryan Adams, who sneaked in behind Leonard Cohen’s Everybody Knows (from just over the unwalled border) having previously dropped in with two versions of English Girls Approximately.

We had some REM, albeit with Everybody Hurts – one of the handful of their songs which is really well known but which is nowhere near their best, although it is another which gave its name to a blog post – Ernest Borgnine by John Grant (no video as they all come with a very long and very rude intro) and Enfilade from At The Drive-In’s career highlight Relationship of Command (I’ll be the hyena, you’ll see…).

And, mixed in with quintessentially English moments from Harper,  The Jam (Eton Rifles) and Half Man Half Biscuit’s Evening of Swing (Has Been Cancelled), we had my current obsession Drive-By Truckers’ tale of immigrants making a new life for themselves in America.

Which seems fitting.

  • One last point… that’s it for the politics, at least for now. Hopefully for a while, but that may be in the not so large hands of others.

Back to the normal bobbins next time.

photo by:


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Ablaze to Drunk And On A Star

IT has become something of a tradition in the relatively short life of this blog to write a state of the nation-style post, assessing the world around me and my place in it as we enter a new year.

And it is rapidly becoming another tradition that the good intentions to have that piece written on New Year’s Day are derailed and delayed.

Two years ago was spot on, written in a candlelit bar on the Ghanaian coast on a quiet first night of the year, albeit not posted for another two weeks due to the lack of wi-fi.

But last year, it took until January 23 before what became the penultimate entry for 2016 to see the light of day, so writing this nine days into 2017 is positively punctual. And a form of rebirth.

That entry 12 months ago announced the break this blog was going on which was supposed to last a few weeks, months at the most – not, one brief return aside, a year – and an overhaul of the design of the site.

Finally that prediction has come true – the new look you have hopefully spotted, albeit with a few minor tweaks still to come, and a return to regular articles both in the A-Z Challenge and working my way through the travel pieces (this is the Travel Marmot after all) which have been on the must-write list for who knows how long.

Travel remains close to my heart, even if there is none on the horizon – something that does not sit easy and there is a real itch to do so something about it.

My bed for the night, right, on New Year’s Day 2015 in Elmina, Ghana

So how did we get to that point?

That post on 2015 was written sat in the power-free, darkened bar at a small eco beach resort with the camp pets curled up on my feet or alongside me. Away to my right, the occasional sounds of some of my fellow travellers mixed with the sound of the Atlantic with a night in my one-man tent at the side of the volleyball court awaiting me.

This post is written sat at the desk in the corner of the front room of my flat. To my right, the sound of American college football is coming out of the TV with workmen outside dismantling the ice rink which has taken over the square  at Gloucester Docks for the past few weeks.

Food will not be cooked over a fire from the (newly) well-stocked fridge and bed will be, well, a bed. A proper bed. And between now and heading under the duvet, there’s all the modern conveniences to enjoy.

Not to be underestimated or taken for granted. Especially now, probably for the first time in six years, my life is firmly settled and fully unpacked.

If this new-year post tradition was in place in 2010 – round about the time the earliest entries in this blog were written, albeit initially, on a different website – it would have recorded a similar story.

It was about 50 miles away across the border in Cardiff, but there was a steady, responsible job on a newspaper and my own house (well, mine and the mortgage company’s). Everything was pretty much sorted, running smoothly and normal.

Sunset over Elmina – almost time to start writing

Right up to the decision to jack it all in and go travelling.

And since then, my life has been in a sort of limbo, living out of bags, on the road, with large chunks of my clothes or belongings in storage and even when back to what seemed like normality and even running a small company in my spare time, there was never that feeling of being settled. Of putting down roots. Of permanence.

There was always another big trip somewhere down the line, even before it was decided on what it was going to be.

But sat here now, everything is out of storage. There aren’t even things in bags, clothes are hanging up (unironed and wrinkled, but hanging up) or folded in drawers – now the Ikea packages have finally been put together –  books are in strict order on the bookshelves, furniture from my rented-out house in Cardiff surrounds me (the new tenants did not want it) and this week marks a year back on the payroll and in the office across the Golden Valley in Cheltenham.

Life is settled. Life is, pretty much, good. Life is not in a state of limbo.

Well, sort of. And that sort of is why there is no travel planned. Bar a couple of ideas and one plan made over a few drinks at a Trans Africa reunion which are being suppressed until that state of limbo is totally over.

Many of you will know the new year brings not only a delayed Travel Marmot blog post but also a tax deadline and that is what is largely delaying any plans for the future.

That end of January deadline is pretty much taken care of, all the relevant paperwork shipped off to the accountants. It is another tax issue which has everything on hold and explains me actually having an accountant.

That decision in 2010 to leave Cardiff was not meant to last this long. Always thought my future involved me returning there and moving back into my house.

But no, bar a couple of months between tenants, that house has been rented and there is outstanding tax to be paid. No attempt to dodge tax, just a breakdown in communication and, in my case, organisation.

So while the wait goes on for the final amount payable, there is no spending and until there is a clear idea of the budget, travel plans are on hold.

The moment the payment is made, the planning starts ( and if my boss reads this, don’t worry. That’s travelling little and often, not another lengthy, quit-my-job option. Probably).

So that’s me, what about the A-Z Challenge which forms the centrepiece of this blog at the moment.

That last, solitary post which popped up a few months ago wrapped up the end of the Ds, so to set things up neatly for the new year and the regular return of this blog, it has been a case of mopping up the A-Ds which arrived on my iPod over the last 12 months.

It was a fairly lengthy list from Ablaze by School of Seven Bells to Drunk And On A Star by Kevin Morby from 2016 albums, a few older ones missed while on the road  and any others picked up over the year (a flurry of catching up on Teenage Fanclub’s back catalogue for starters).

The normal, slightly longer than normal, playlist which accompanies each A-Z entry is below but what were my picks for 2016’s best albums?

Was going to do a proper top 10, but opted against that. Plenty of good albums last year, just not much verging on the great as most struggled to keep the quality throughout (sorry guys,  Bowie’s Blackstar is good, but would people really be raving about it the way they do if it wasn’t for the circumstances?).

So, in no particular order, my pick for 2016 are:

  • Skeleton Tree – Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds (not an easy listen, especially in light of his son’s death, but worth investing time in)
  • American Band – Drive-By Truckers (my current obsession and next band on the gig list)
  • A Moon Shaped Pool – Radiohead (who had the great idea of a track listing running from A-Z)
  • Going, Going… – The Wedding Present (surprisingly good from a band largely overlooked in recent years)
  • Teens of Denial – Car Seat Headrest (the type of band this A-Z Challenge was designed for as could well have slipped through the net, but kept popping up and catching my attention)
  • Schmilco – Wilco (not all Wilco fans liked it, but fine by me)

And bubbling under or worth more of my time in the weeks to come are:

  • Blackstar – David Bowie
  • 22, A Million – Bon Iver (Really need to spend more time on it)
  • Here – Teenage Fanclub (What prompted that re-examination)
  • case/lang/veirs – case/lang/veirs (Bit hit and miss, but the good bits are well worth it)
  • Chaleur Humaine – Christine And The Queens (Surprised my self with this one. Tilted one of the songs of the years)
  • A Sailor’s Guide To Earth – Sturgill Simpson (A bit more time with this one and could well be bumped into the top list)
  • Head Carrier – Pixies (Jury still out, last addition to the iPod. Could go either way)
  • Meet The Humans – Steve Mason (Slipped by me a bit, another that needs further examination)
  • Babes Never Die – Honeyblood (Some great songs but does tail away)
  • I, Gemini – Let’s Eat Grandma (We hit the Es next time – we’ll see more of them then)

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